Rapid recovery of an insect–plant interaction following habitat loss and experimental wetland restoration
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- Watts, C.H. & Didham, R.K. Oecologia (2006) 148: 61. doi:10.1007/s00442-005-0344-5
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This study examined the impact of wetland habitat loss and isolation on an insect–plant interaction, and the subsequent rate of recovery of the interaction following experimental habitat restoration. We compared herbivore colonisation rates and herbivory damage by ‘Batrachedra’ sp. (Lepidoptera: Coleophoridae) on experimentally placed potted Sporadanthus ferrugineus (Restionaceae) plants at increasing distances (up to 800 m) from an intact habitat (the source population). These tests showed that even a moderate degree of isolation (i.e. greater than 400 m) from the intact wetland habitat caused an almost complete collapse of the insect–plant interaction, at least in the short term. The number of eggs and larvae of colonising ‘Batrachedra’ sp., as well as average larval size and the proportion of S. ferrugineus stems damaged, all decreased logarithmically with increasing distance from the intact habitat, presumably due to dispersal limitation of the herbivore. Subsequently, to test whether the interaction can recover following habitat restoration, we surveyed herbivore colonisation rates and herbivory damage on naturally regenerated S. ferrugineus plants on experimentally restored ‘islands’ at increasing distances (up to 800 m) from an intact habitat. The rate of recovery of the interaction was surprisingly rapid (i.e. between 196 and 308 weeks). The degree of difference in the density of eggs and larvae, and in the proportion of stems damaged with increasing isolation from the intact wetland, gradually diminished over 196 weeks. After 308 weeks there was no significant difference in the insect–plant interaction between the intact wetland sites and any of the experimentally restored sites up to 800 m away. These results suggest that some insect–plant interactions can recover rapidly from habitat loss with restoration management.